When Grammar and Political Correctness Collide

I see a lot of corporate documents every week, and the writing contained therein could keep me supplied with blog topics for the next year (assuming the chronic eye rolling doesn’t do me in first). Inflated language, random capitalization, buffer verbs, redundancy, awkward syntax, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction problems abound, and each of those deserves a separate post.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565Today I shall discuss a truly cringe-inducing trend: Using nouns as verbs and adjectives. For example, let’s look at the word “partner.” We can all agree it’s a noun that refers to someone who takes an equal share of responsibility with someone else in an effort to accomplish a shared goal. Not all partners have the same significance in one’s life, but they are always nouns.

In college, you may have had a temporary partner in your “Japanese Superhero TV Shows Masquerading as American Productions 101” course. She created the Power Rangers charts and diagrams, while you researched and presented the various iterations (your thesis being that Dino Thunder was the best). Later, you might have a life partner who shares your bank account and helps you screw up the children you are raising together.

It has lately become acceptable to use “partner” as a verb, such as, “Jacob Marley partnered with Scrooge to form Bain Capital.” I’m not a big fan of this usage, but it comes in handy when I’m writing someone’s bio and already used “collaborated” and “worked with.”

It’s the adjective version that gets my cringe machine firing. “Our company seeks a partnering manager who is willing to work alongside and support the communications team in producing awful writing.”

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to this atrocity: Using “architect” as a verb.

That’s what I said. Architect is now being used as a verb in place of “design and implement.” For example, “The successful candidate will be called upon to architect a more efficient and streamlined production process.”

If you aren’t cringing by now, we can’t be friends.

The good news is that my job permits me to change these beastly little nuisances. Bless my employer for entrusting me to make those decisions many hundreds of times a day.

Ah, but the world always finds a new way to needle you, doesn’t it? It is no longer politically correct to use the adjective “female” when describing a human being. We must now use the word “woman” in its place, though the rules of English unequivocally state that the latter term is a noun.

Examples:

“There are not enough women directors in Hollywood.”

“Car-repair customers are more trusting of a woman mechanic.”

“We have not yet had a woman president, though we’ve had plenty of men presidents.”

Am I to understand that the biological descriptors use to differentiate between humans with two X chromosomes and humans with an X and a Y chromosome are degrading and oppressive? So much so that we mangle the language and wedge nouns in the place of adjectives?

Let’s take it to the extreme and see what we get:

“All embryos are inherently woman, but the release of testosterone at a certain stages induces the formation of man genitalia in some fetuses.”

“The woman alligator cares for her hatchlings while the man alligator has moved on to search for another mate.”

“To install your fiber optic cable, insert than man end into the corresponding woman receptacle on your surround-sound amplifier.”

How about it, folks? Am I an insensitive clod for caring more about grammar than about making sure crybabies don’t get offended by phantom insults?

Hmmm. I suppose that question wasn’t framed with the utmost neutrality, was it? Perhaps I’m just hopelessly operating from a male perspective. Er, a man perspective.

power rangers

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21 responses to “When Grammar and Political Correctness Collide

  • brianhmoll

    http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DFW_present_tense.html

    Maybe the best article on the politicizing of American grammar and usage, ever.

  • sueperryauthor

    I share your cringes and yet – as painful as the day-to-day changes can be, when I take a step back I feel ambivalent about such language butchery. I love the fact that language lives and changes, even though I hate most of the changes I have witnessed.

    • ericjbaker

      Indeed. The world chews up and spits out old sticks in the mud like me on a routine basis.

      Actually, I’m all for organic, street-level changes. I just hate to think that someone from a recruiting firm who grinds out corporate gibberish all day has so much influence.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Great post, Eric, although you had me cringing the entire time. Your extreme examples were hilarious! Feel free to refer to me as a female commenter, name Jill. I will take no offense.

    • ericjbaker

      I think we should take a cue from Power Rangers and be identified by our uniform color. I’ll be the Green Blogger, you can be the Red Blogger…or whatever color you prefer. Who am I to tell a blogger what color helmet she should put on?*

      *this statement proves I am enlightened

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be red, that’s good. I’m still laughing at the “woman alligator”.

  • Storkhunter

    This has got to be the best post ever. I constantly shilly shally between celebrating the evolution of language and hearkening back to the language of Shakespeare, but the shameless butchery of language, in the name of political correctness has me cringing down to my toes.
    The one thing that has me screaming from the rafters is the misuse of adverbs, as in “I needed it real bad.” No, the only thing that’s real(ly) bad is your omission of “really badly.” Know your grammar, it’ll make the world a much better place … for me.

  • ericjbaker

    Those people could use a beating from Mr. Sparkly Wand’s inbred cousin, Mr. Sock with a Cue-ball.

    I sure hope Brianhmoll, who left the initial comment, sees your opening line about this being the best post ever. I’m only ever second best in his eyes.

  • nrhatch

    You are architecting a wonderful blog here, Eric.

    It’s great to see partnering and intercoursing between your man readers and your woman readers as all are cringing at the sound of beastly writing which we hope you will be fixing.

    One that sets my grammar syntaxes on “grating” is parallel-construction problems.

    Or would that be parallel-architecturing problems? 😉

    • ericjbaker

      Thank you for internetting your way over to these parts.

      I want to do a post on parallel construction, but I’m having a hard time inventing examples. Those types of sentences run into trouble precisely because they are complex.

  • Margie Brimer

    You’ve got quite a handle on the language, a skill I admire and quite frankly envy.

  • japingape

    I mostly agree with you, but you’ve got to make an exception for poetry. I once read the line “As the men campfired their suppers” in a poem and thought it was great.

    • ericjbaker

      Yes, you are so right. I once said this in an earlier post but I’ll restate for those who haven’t read my blog before: I am not qualified to discuss the merits and qualities of poetry, since I have no experience writing it or education in its forms and techniques. My writing talk is limited to prose fiction, business writing, and the various forms of informative and narrative non-fiction.

      Thanks for commenting and for making a good point.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Eric, you’ve totally hit upon a pet peeve of mine. I really do dislike corporate-speak. I’m all for malleability within the language (even the occasional dreaded noun-as-verb), which, on an individual level, can be clever and kind of fun. But corporate turns-of-phrase seem to become so pervasive and hackneyed so quickly. In my office, the word I seriously hate hearing is “debrief”, used as a noun rather than a verb. Actually, I hate hearing it as any part of speech. I’m not in the military. Why can’t we just have a discussion?

    • ericjbaker

      Another office-talk construction I can’t stand is “problem solve.” As in, “We need to get together and problem solve.”

      Let’s do that after I get back from break, during which I plan to lunch eat. But before 5:30, because that’s when I home drive.

      You know, “solving problems” just isn’t enough in today’s business climate. We need to put the verb behind the noun if we want to keep pace. I mean pace keep.

  • Jesu Cristo

    Wow, wonderful log layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is great, as well ass the content!

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